Reparations for black descendants of slaves entered the national discourse when, in June of 2014, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote "The Case for Reparations" for The Atlantic. Directly after his article was published, Black Kos held a forum to discuss it. Here we are, five years later, and Democratic candidates for the presidency, among them Kamala Harris, Julián Castro, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Marianne Williamson, have all weighed in positively on the issue.
This is a deeply emotional issue for me, as it has been for many other black Americans.
On both sides of my family, I am descended from men and women who were enslaved in this country. Their lives and histories are well-known to me, passed down by my mom and dad, both of whom knew family members and friends of the family who had been enslaved. My husband is a descendant of great-grandparents enslaved in Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland. Hence, for me and mine, slavery is not some long-ago-and-far-away issue, or simply a fact in a history book.
It is real.
Daily, it affects who I am, how I live my life, my fears, my hopes, and my dreams. Being black in this country shapes my life in ways that, if one is not black, cannot always be understood.
For many years, I’ve supported the call for this country to compensate us. This nation, built on land ripped off from Native Americans, accrued its wealth— in both the North and the South—on the backs of enslaved Africans and their descendants.
Reparations are also a personal issue for me. A white man who enslaved some my family members was compensated for losing their “services” when they were emancipated in D.C., which I wrote about here.
Back in 2009, I wrote “Ode to a colored soldier whose name I bear,” detailing a bit of the history of Dennis Weaver—for whom I was named Denise—who was one of the members of my family held in bondage in Washington. Thanks to now-digitized and transcribed records, I was able to locate documents filed under the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act by one of the owners of my family members, who were surnamed Weaver, Sipio (Scipio), and Jackson.
For those people who fiercely resist the idea of reparations, I point to this history of slavers who owned humans. They were paid compensation by the Feds for losing their human chattel.
Petition of Hugh W. Throckmorton, 5 May 1862
To the Commissioners under the act of Congress approved the 16th of April, 1862, entitled "An act for the release of certain persons held to service or labor in the District of Columbia."
Your Petitioner, Hugh W. Throckmorton of Washington City D.C. by this his petition in writing, represents and states, that he is a person loyal to the United States, who, at the time of the passage of the said act of Congress, held a claim to service or labor against the following persons of African descent of the names of Lewis Sipio, Solomon Ford, Henry Weaver, Patsy Jackson, John Jackson, Dennis Weaver, Winney Ford and Joseph Ford for and during the life of said Persons and that by said act of Congress said Persons was discharged and freed of and from all claim of your petitioner to such service or labor; that at the time of said discharge said Lewis Sipio was of the age of Thirty Years and of the personal description following:(1) Light Coloured, Solomon Ford Twenty Nine Years of a Dark Coloured, Henry Weaver aged Twenty Six Years, Dark Coloured Patsy Jackson, aged Twenty two years, Dark Coloured John Jackson aged Eight Months. Light Coloured Dennis Weaver aged Eighteen years. Dark Coloured Winney Ford aged Sixteen years, Dark Coloured and Joseph Ford aged fifteen years. Dark Coloured all very healthy and No defect excepting Henry Weaver who has a Broken Leg; and at Present Writing on Crutches but improving
On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law the D.C. Emancipation Act, freeing enslaved persons in Washington, DC. Their owners were compensated by the U.S. Treasury Department. In this Inside the Vaults video short, Documentary Archivist Damani Davis discusses the petitions filed by owners and slaves under the Act and the details they reveal about the enslaved African-American community at the time. Archivist Robert Ellis explains how the process worked.
The history of black struggles to get this country to address reparations is a long one, involving many black groups and organizations. I am always amazed that this history, so familiar to me, isn’t well-known outside of the black community.
I often feel like I view the world through a one-way mirror. I can look out and see all things white, yet rarely, if ever, does the white world see me, and my part of history. Black struggles are chalked up as a synthesis of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and the civil rights movement, attributed almost solely to Dr. Martin Luther King. Case closed.
As a result, I was very surprised to see this article in The Washington Post, by Howard University history professor Dr. Ana Lucia Araujo, detailing much of the history that I not only know, but also participated in.
Nearly five years ago, Georgetown University students brought to light an unexpected event associated with the university’s history. In 1838, the Jesuits who owned the university sold 272 enslaved men, women and children to pay the institution’s debts. That history — hardly a surprise to historians, who know the Catholic Church was the largest slave owner in the Americas — triggered a call for reparations. A few weeks ago, Georgetown students voted to create a fund, financed by an annual student fee, to aid the descendants of these enslaved people.
Georgetown students were not the first to demand reparations for slavery. Fifty years ago, a group of black activists led by James Forman demanded reparations for slavery from churches and synagogues. Like today’s calls for reparations, those demands emphasized the horrors of slavery and its aftermath: White America represented by the churches and synagogues exploited their ancestors and imposed on them the “most vicious, racist system in the world.” Then, and now, the call for reparations is about the need to address wealth inequalities plaguing African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved.
There is a long and old tradition of black men and women demanding restitution for the time they were enslaved. As early as the 18th century, former slaves such as Belinda Sutton of Massachusetts formulated individual demands for reparations from their masters. (Sutton ultimately received a pension, though hers was a rare case.)
Araujo cites James Forman’s call for reparations, which took place after the organization the Republic of New Africa’s separatist call for five states in the South:
… summarized in the document “Black Manifesto,” presented to an audience of 500 activists at the National Black Economic Development Conference in Detroit, on April 26, 1969. He opened his appeal by stating: “We the black people assembled in Detroit, Michigan for the National Black Economic Development Conference are fully aware that we have been forced to come together because racist white America has exploited our resources, our minds, our bodies, our labor. For centuries we have been forced to live as colonized people inside the United States, victimized by the most vicious, racist system in the world.”
Almost two decades later, N’COBRA, The National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, was founded.
N’COBRA’s founding meeting, September 26, 1987, was convened for the purpose of broadening the base of support for the long-standing reparations movement. N’COBRA has individual members, national and local organizational members and organizational affiliates. N’COBRA has chapters, members, affiliates, and supporters throughout the U. S. and in Africa, Europe, Central and South America and the Caribbean. N’COBRA is directed nationally by a board of directors. N’COBRA’s campaigns and work is organized through nine national commissions: Economic Development, Human Resources, Legal Strategies, Legislation, Information and Media, Membership and Organizational Development, International Affairs, Youth and Education and seven standing committees: Nomination , Executive, Conference, Fund Development, ASHE, National office and National Campaign(s).
NCOBRA’s definition of reparations:
Reparations is a process of repairing, healing and restoring a people injured because of their group identity and in violation of their fundamental human rights by governments, corporations, institutions and families. Those groups that have been injured have the right to obtain from the government, corporation, institution or family responsible for the injuries that which they need to repair and heal themselves. In addition to being a demand for justice, it is a principle of international human rights law. As a remedy, it is similar to the remedy for damages in domestic law that holds a person responsible for injuries suffered by another when the infliction of the injury violates domestic law. Examples of groups that have obtained reparations include Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust, Japanese Americans interned in concentration camps in the United States during WWII, Alaska Natives for land, labor, and resources taken, victims of the massacre in Rosewood, Florida and their descendants, Native Americans as a remedy for violations of treaty rights, and political dissenters in Argentina and their descendants.
It is no coincidence that Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), first elected to Congress in 1965 from Detroit, would become the elected official to spearhead H.R.3745, the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act, which was then reintroduced each year, becoming HR40, now sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) and 52 co-sponsors.
Official Title as Introduced
To acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States and the 13 American colonies between 1619 and 1865 and to establish a commission to examine the institution of slavery, subsequent de jure and de facto racial and economic discrimination against African Americans, and the impact of these forces on living African Americans, to make recommendations to the Congress on appropriate remedies, and for other purposes.
For those of you who want to dive in deeper, start with Randall Robinson's seminal work The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks.
The national bestseller by the author of Defending the Spirit.
In this powerful and controversial book, distinguished African-American political leader and thinker Randall Robinson argues for the restoration of the rich history that slavery and segregation severed. Drawing from research and personal experience, he shows that only by reclaiming their lost past and proud heritage can blacks lay the foundation for their future. And white Americans can make reparations for slavery and the century of racial discrimination that followed with monetary restitution, educational programs, and the kinds of equal opportunities that will ensure the social and economic success of all its citizens.
In a book that is both an unflinching indictment of past wrongs and an impassioned call to our nation to educate all Americans about the history of Africa and its people, Robinson makes a persuasive case for the debt white America owes blacks, and the debt blacks owe themselves.
About the Author
Randall Robinson is the founder and president of TransAfrica, the organization that spearheaded the movement to influence U.S. policies toward international black leadership. He is the author of Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks and The Reckoning: What Blacks Owe To Each Other. Frequently featured in major print media, he has appeared on Charlie Rose, Today, Good Morning America, and the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, among others.
One of the other books you should read is a collection of essays, Should America Pay? Slavery and the Raging Debate on Reparations, by Dr. Raymond Winbush.
Publisher’s Weekly: Winbush, the director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University and an editorial board member of the Journal of Black Studies, oversees a gathering of scholars, attorneys and grassroots activists who offer a smorgasbord of compelling arguments, most of which explain why reparations are necessary for rectifying present damage done by the U.S.'s slave-holding past. For many of the contributors, reparations do not merely involve individual African-Americans receiving a cash payment. Rather, it's about recognizing that the legacies of slavery continue to be manifest in negative cultural attitudes and inferior socio-economic conditions. Law professor Robert Westley delves into the relatively fragile circumstances of middle-class African-Americans and compares them with the cases in which European Jews and Japanese-Americans received reparations after WWII. Winbush details the forgotten practice of "whitecapping," where black rural landowners were permanently driven off their land by whites in the early 2oth century. And journalist Molly Secours confronts her own white privilege. With passages that detail slaveholder atrocities and resulting governmental benefits, the text is generally sobering and direct, though activist Tim Wise gets points for metaphoric ingenuity by referring to racism's legacy as a type of "historical herpes" that's infected Americans. Winbush also includes three essays that are anti-reparations, but John McWhorter offers the group's only comprehensive rebuttal. Beyond pro or con, most of the pieces here are more deeply concerned with having its readers confront their notions of accountability by looking at our collective past and present.
Growing interest in reparations for African Americans has prompted a range of responses, from lawsuits against major corporations and a march in Washington to an anti-reparations ad campaign. As a result, the link between slavery and contemporary race relations is more potent and obvious than ever. Grassroots organizers, lawmakers, and distinguished academics have embraced the idea that reparations should be pursued vigorously in the courts and legislature. But others ask, Who should pay? And could reparations help heal the wounds of the past?
This comprehensive collection -- the only of its kind -- gathers together the seminal essays and key participants in the debate. Pro-reparations essays, including contributions by Congressman John Conyers Jr., Christopher Hitchens, and Professor Molefi Asante, are countered with arguments by Shelby Steele, Armstrong Williams, and John McWhorter, among others. Also featured are important documents, such as the First Congressional Reparations Bill of 1867 and the Dakar Declaration of 2001, as well as a new chapter on the current status and future direction of the movement.
Winbush recently posted this update to Twitter:
In recent months, a disturbing element has entered the discussion around reparations, a new movement that calls itself #ADOS (American Descendants of Slavery). Its members take issue with those who came before them, and have eschewed Pan-Africanism and a diasporic approach to reparations. Take a look at N’COBRA’s position on who should receive reparations in the light of recent events.
WHO SHOULD RECEIVE REPARATIONS?
Within the broadest definition, all Black people of African descent in the United States should receive reparations in the form of changes in or elimination of laws and practices that allow them to be treated differently and less well than White people. For example, ending racial profiling and discrimination in the provision of health care, providing scholarship and community development funds for Black people of African descent, and supporting processes of self-determination will not only benefit descendants of enslaved Africans, but all African descendant peoples in the United States who because of their color are victims of the vestiges of slavery. This is similar to the Rosewood, Florida reparations package, where some forms of reparations were provided only to persons who descended from those who were injured, died and lost their homes and other forms were made available to all Black people of African descent in Florida.
#ADOS members take the opposite approach. They reject cultural and political ties to Africa; they are hostile to blacks from the diaspora (for example, in the Caribbean); and they have become as vocally anti-immigrant as Donald Trump.
All this would probably have slipped under the radar of most white folks and remained an intrablack community discussion and debate, except for the fact that the two founders of ADOS—Yvette Carnell and Antonio Moore—took their campaign onto Twitter. They already had a YouTube presence, but very visible attacks against presidential candidates and black media figures took the shade off of the convo and shined a harsh spotlight their way,
In last Sunday’s post, “The war against black Democratic voters,” I stated:
Some of the current targets of hostile online attacks by ostensibly “black” groups (whose activities are in reality being sponsored by hard-right groups and Russian elements) are Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Cory Booker, MSNBC host Joy Reid, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Roland Martin, Malcolm Nance, Rev. William Barber, SiriusXM Make it Plain host Mark Thompson, and rapper/activist Talib Kweli Greene … just to name a few.
Don’t dismiss all the attackers as simply bots, or white people masquerading as black online. There are also some real live black folks who have bought the hype, and they are assiduously working to influence others.
We are not immune to these attacks here at Daily Kos: They have already occurred, and as we move further into election season, they will more than likely increase.
I’ve had white people figuratively jump in my face online, citing or quoting some of them and telling me to STFU because they are quoting someone who is “authentically black.” Those white folks are being manipulated too.
Media Matters for America wrote in “What to know about ADOS, a group targeting Black progressives”
There is evidence that ADOS is advancing a right-wing agenda, and while it calls itself progressive, it pushes pro-Trump, anti-immigrant views. ADOS co-founder Yvette Carnell is a board member of right-wing front group Progressives for Immigration Reform (PFIR). PFIR -- which despite its name pushes an anti-immigrant agenda -- has ties to Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), an extremist group run by white nationalist John Tanton. Carnell has claimed that PFIR is a bona fide progressive group despite its anti-immigrant approach. Carnell also uploaded a video to YouTube praising Donald Trump, but deleted it after it began to receive scrutiny from progressive activists, according to a discussion on YouTube channel New Possibilities. As an investigation of ADOS by Daily Dot explained, “#ADOS has picked up steam online over the past few months. The hashtag has been mostly used to criticize Democratic leaders and publicly attack Black celebrities—like rapper Talib Kweli, actor Yvette Nicole Brown, and radio show hosts Charlamagne Tha God and Roland Martin—and anyone else who the founders believe do not share their vision for reparations. The hashtag also gained traction when it was used to question whether presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)—whose mother is Indian and father is Jamaican—would prioritize the needs of native-born Black people.” The ADOS website praises President Donald Trump and former President Ronald Reagan for their views on Black America and criticizes former President Barack Obama.
To add more chaos to the volatile mix, advocates for certain candidates have used #ADOS attacks to attempt to undermine competitors. Here is a discussion held about #ADOS on Joy Reid’s program:
Malcolm Nance has been very outspoken about #ADOS:
#ADOS members have sought to delegitimatize Nance (why am I not surprised?):
Richard J. Rosendall wrote recently for The Washington Blade, in an article titled “Would you like a wedge with that?”:
If “hashtag movement” sounds like an oxymoron, consider the strange circumstance that, even as I write, one such social media creation is on the verge of getting a black media figure fired.
My friend Rev. Mark Thompson, morning drive host at SiriusXM Progress and a frequent MSNBC commentator, was suspended on April 9 after defending himself when accosted in Newark by professional provocateur Thomas “Afrika” Ibiang. The hashtag movement #ADOS, which stands for American Descendants Of Slaves and has been attacking Thompson for months, is defending Ibiang and exploiting the incident to get Thompson fired.
Hip-hop recording artist and social activist Talib Kweli Greene @TalibKweli ,who has 1.9 million Twitter followers, dropped the heaviest lug on ADOS when he wrote “Why #ADOS Is Trash. Receipts Attached.”
In my first solo song ever, “2000 Seasons” from 1997, I rap “they call it reparations but they call it extortion.” In 2004, on Kanye West’s (that’s pre Trump Kanye btw) “We Can Make It Better”, I rapped “reparations, how you calculate the amount to be paid, you try to imagine America without the slaves.” I am of the belief that African Americans absolutely deserve reparations and I’ve worked closely throughout my career with a pro reparations community activist group called the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. However, none of that mattered to a woman named Yvette Carnell, a founder of this ADOS movement, when she decided to wander over to my mentions to aggressively critique me for writing what amounted to an anti Trump tweet. The ADOS position is that we should not vote for any democrats unless they promise to support reparations. They don’t hold the GOP to the same standard, and even though Yvette Carnell used to support the Sanders campaign in 2016, she was very upset at me implying that I like Bernie Sanders better than Donald Trump.
As bad as Yvette’s Carnell’s initial unsolicited tweet to me was, her followers were way worse. They collectively decided I was a Haitian immigrant (weird flex) as a way to justify their dismissal of my position. I was born in Brooklyn. My mother was born in New Jersey and my father was born in Queens. We’ve never been Haitian. It became apparent to me very quickly that ADOS was an anti black immigrant movement when scores of ADOS accounts began to harass me, an American born citizen, for being an immigrant. I was called a “coon”, a “sell out”, I was told to “go back to Haiti”. When I pointed out that Yvette Carnell made a YouTube video entitled “Pan Africanism Is Dead” I was told to “go back to Africa”. One ADOS person threatened to shoot me and several others, including a verified twitter user named Junot Joyner who once lost on American Idol 11 years ago, threatened to show up where I perform to physically assault me. These bigoted and sometimes violently worded attacks came daily, by the hundreds, for almost a month straight. Supposedly pro-black ADOS folks were using the same exact hateful rhetoric that white supremacists have used on me for years in digital spaces. Something was fishy.
The strategy for ADOS to get reparations seemed to be attacking famous (mostly) black people for two reasons; first, for not being black and American enough according to a standard set by ADOS and secondly, for being anti Donald Trump. Yvette Carnell’s partner in the founding fo ADOS is a former Los Angeles county district attorney named Antonio Moore who spends his free time making YouTube videos that critique filmmaker Jordan Peele for hiring Africans that haven’t been born in America as the leads for his movies. ADOS folks online constantly tweet about taking down Ta-Nehisi Coates, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Roland Martin, Angela Rye, and every other prominent public critic of Donald Trump. They say that they only go after Democrats because Democrats have taken the black vote for granted. While that statement can be proven true, ADOS fails to realize that the results of only going after Democrats is handing a free pass to the GOP. When you raise that question, far too many ADOS folks begin to defend Trump and double down on their attacks of all Trumps opposition. This is a recipe for failure in my view.
Go read the whole thing.
To complicate the issue further, now Cornel West has jumped into the mess:
There was a swift response:
“Cornel West and the Intellectual Dishonesty of the ADOS Movement.”
In the short clip of West speaking on the ADOS movement, I have noticed two main issues with West’s statement that I want to bring attention to. The first issue is that when it comes to the racial oppression of African people we are only talking about a matter of degree. When slavery ended in the Caribbean, the Africans there were subjected to racial discrimination and oppression. The most dramatic example of this was Paul Bogle’s rebellion in Jamaica. For this Bogle was hanged. Africans in the Caribbean also had to wage a struggle of their own to adopt the ability to vote. There was never a KKK in the Caribbean or the type of legalized discrimination that existed in the days of Jim Crow, but this does not mean that systems of racial discrimination did not exist there.
The United States frequently intervened in many Caribbean countries and imposed racial domination over the African population as well. Haiti and the Dominican Republic were invaded and placed under the occupation of America in 1915 and 1916. After Puerto Rico and Cuba gained their independence, American effectively colonized Puerto Rico. Cuba was able to remain independent from the United States, but the United States also worked to ensure that white supremacy remained entrenched in Cuba. This is why an American general named Leonard Wood urged Cuba to deny voting rights to the African population. American racism has never been confined within the borders of the United States, which is something that Pan-Africanists have always understood.
Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, professor and chair of the Department of Africology and African American Studies at Temple University, weighed in on Facebook.
Perhaps sparked by the candidacy of Senator Kamala Harris, of Indian and Jamaican ancestry, Carnell and Moore have articulated a retrogressive idea of discreet identity based upon the narrow point of enslavement in the United States. Although they say America it appears that they must mean United States since West has argued against Jamaican, Haitians, and Barbadians. Historically the people of those islands have always been seen as part of the world that was brutalized and enslaved by Europeans.
I find this sentiment quite disturbing and defeatist. There may be other reasons for African Americans to question supporting Kamala Harris for the Presidency, but it cannot be, must never be on the parochial basis of ethnicity. For those of us, born in this unsaintly country, from Georgia to Washington, from Alabama to Wyoming, we cannot declare who comprises the African American community on the basis of ethnicity. I am married to a woman who was born in Costa Rica of Jamaican parentage, but she is black and African, and African American. Who is to say that Marcus Garvey of Jamaica was not an African American, or Kwame Ture who was born in Trinidad, or Hugh Masekela who spoke of our common victories over bondage, apartheid, and racist segregation practices in the United States? Who wants me to deny Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier, and why?
No persons of Africa escaped the onslaught of enslavement and colonization during the European blitz across the world. Our experiences produced in us the same reactions as they did in Africans in all parts of the continent of Africa and in the Diaspora. Who seeks to divide us and for what political purpose?
When I first heard the idea of ADOS and saw Cornel West on YOUTUBE railing against black people who were not born in the United States I thought I was listening to a Russian troll introduced to create cleavages among our people. This position is ahistorical, irrational, and impossible to defend socially, politically, or culturally.
My own problems with West’s endorsement of ADOS is his condoning of its hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric (and its endorsement of a MAGA agenda and embrace of right-wing funds). But then, West went into my intelligentsia dustbin years ago, so I can’t say I was surprised (paging Tavis Smiley: Come get Brother Cornel and put him on a bus).
I’ve had my own encounters with the Adosians.
I had to drop some ancestral stuff of my own to get them to STFU.
More #ADOS bullshit, going after Sen. Kamala Harris, whom I’m voting for.
I expect that a few will wind up here today in the comments. I’m in accord with the inimitable Angry Black Lady on that: